Pope Francis will meet privately with victims of clerical sexual abuse during his visit to Ireland this weekend, the Vatican said on Tuesday.
It isalso “very possible” the Pope will publicly address the abuse topic during his visit, the Vatican’s press office director, Greg Burke, said during a media briefing.
Burke added that the pontiff would pray at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral In Dublin on Saturday, where a candle has burned for years in remembrance of the country’s victims of sexual abuse.
In 2009, Ireland was rocked by a report commissioned by the Irish government that found high-ranking church leaders covered up clerical child abuse spanning decades.
While it is not unusual for the pontiff to meet privately with victims of abuse during an overseas visit, it is unusual for the Vatican to announce such plans in advance.
But these are not usual times for the pope, who is facing increasing pressure to address sexual abuse among clergy, in the wake of the most recent damning 900-page Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of sexual abuse and cover-ups.
On Monday Pope Francis acknowledged “with shame and repentance” the Catholic Church’s failure to act over the abuse. In an unusually blunt letter, he wrote: “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
The letter directly referred to the Pennsylvania report, which “detailed the experiences of at least 1,000 survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately 70 years,” the Pope wrote.
The report said internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania – some held in a secret archive to which only the bishop had a key – show that more than 300 “predator priests” had been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children.
The lengthy catalog of abuses in the report makes for difficult reading. As the grand jurors noted, priests and other Catholic leaders targeted boys, girls and teens.
Some victims were plied with alcohol and groped or molested, the report says. Others were orally, vaginally or anally raped, according to the grand jurors.
The pontiff’s visit comes during a delicate time in his papacy, at times stumbling badly in the effort to address sexual abuse among clergy.
Amid a rapidly escalating abuse crisis that has spread across several continents – from Australia to Latin America – all eyes will be on the pope’s response in Ireland, where memories of the country’s own abuse scandal are still vivid.
Released in 2009, the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation’s 720-page report said that it has “no doubt that clerical child sexual abuse was covered up” from January 1975 to May 2004, the time covered by the report. The commission had been set up in 2006 to look into allegations of child sexual abuse made against clergy in the Irish capital.
The report named 11 priests who had pleaded guilty to or were convicted of sexual assaults on children. Of the other 35, it gave pseudonyms to 33 of them and redacted the names of two.
CNN’s Livia Borghese reported from Rome and Sheena McKenzie wrote in London. Madison Park contributed to this report.